SERIES: Division Series, Game 1.
Barry Bonds finally proved himself in the postseason last year. He might not get the same chance in the first round of this year’s playoffs.
Bonds will rarely see good pitches to hit as the defending NL champion San Francisco Giants open their division series against the Florida Marlins, back in the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1997.
That year, Florida entered the postseason as the NL wild card winner, just as it does this season, and swept San Francisco in the first round en route to the championship.
That was one of five series losses in as many trips to the playoffs for Bonds, who before last year had a career .196 postseason average with one homer and six RBIs in 97 at-bats. That all changed in 2002, as he led San Francisco to the World Series for the first time since 1989 by batting .356 with eight homers, 16 RBIs and 27 walks.
“We’ll pitch to him if we’re way ahead,” Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. “We might even pitch to him the first time up in a 0-0 game. Might.
“It might be a situation where you get a guy on first and you still walk him and take your chances on the next guy.”
In 20 games against Florida over the past three seasons, Bonds has a .388 average with 10 homers, 22 RBIs and an .896 slugging percentage. He was 3-for-10 with a homer and seven walks, two intentional, in four games against Florida this year—all San Francisco wins.
The 39-year-old Bonds might have a sixth NL MVP coming his way after totaling 45 home runs, 148 walks and a .341 average this season.
“If Barry was hitting behind himself he wouldn’t get pitched to,” Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia said. “Saying you’re not going to pitch to him is fine. It means more times that he’s on base for us to get him home.”
Pitching—or not pitching—to Bonds in Game 1 will be Josh Beckett, one of seven Marlins making their playoff debuts Tuesday.
“I’m going to be an animal,” Beckett said. “I’m not controlling nothing that day. You’ll see me overthrow a few pitches.”
Beckett is opposed by Cy Young award candidate Jason Schmidt, who is 5-0 lifetime against the Marlins. The right-hander, who led the NL with a 2.34 ERA this season, went 5-0 with a 1.89 ERA in his final seven starts of the season.
While San Francisco’s offense is based around Bonds, Florida’s is keyed by speed. The Marlins led the majors with 150 stolen bases, more than any other team even attempted.
This NL division series pits baseball’s oldest managers, both of whom are appearing in the playoffs for the first time. The 72-year-old McKeon, who helped turn around the Marlins after taking over for Jeff Torborg in May, is the oldest manager ever in the postseason. San Francisco’s Felipe Alou, who replaced Dusty Baker following last season, is 68.
Alou led the Giants to their first 100-win season since 1993 and seventh in team history. His team led the NL West from wire-to-wire.
McKeon, meanwhile, helped the Marlins to the best record in the majors since May 23 to beat out the Philadelphia Phillies for the NL wild card. They’re only the ninth team to come from at least 10 games under .500 to reach the postseason.
“We’re real confident in the fact they haven’t seen us at our best this year,” said Florida center fielder Juan Pierre, who led the majors with 65 steals. “We’ve been pretty much the underdogs all year. It’s a role we’ve accepted and we’ve thrived off it.
“We know we’ve got a team that can beat the Giants. Hopefully we can go out and prove it.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Florida - NL wild card. San Francisco - NL West champion.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Florida - CF Pierre (.305, 1 HR, 41 RBIs), 2B Luis Castillo (.314, 6, 39), C Ivan Rodriguez (.297, 16, 85), 1B Derrek Lee (.271, 31, 92), 3B Miguel Cabrera (.268, 12, 62), RF Juan Encarnacion (.270, 19, 94), LF Jeff Conine (.282, 20, 95), SS Alex Gonzalez (.256, 6, 18). San Francisco - 2B Ray Durham (.285, 8, 33), 1B J.T. Snow (.273, 8, 51), SS Aurilia (.277, 13, 58), LF Bonds (.341, 45, 90), 3B Edgardo Alfonzo (.259, 13, 81), C Benito Santiago (.279, 11, 56), CF Marquis Grissom (.300, 20, 79), RF Jose Cruz Jr. (250, 20, 68).
MARLINS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Beckett (9-8, 3.04 ERA). The right-hander went 4-2 with a 2.38 ERA in his final eight starts of the season. One of those losses came to San Francisco on Aug. 23, when he yielded three runs and seven hits in seven innings of a 3-2 defeat. Beckett is 2-2 with a 3.40 ERA in four lifetime starts against San Francisco.
GIANTS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Schmidt (17-5, 2.34 ERA). Opponents have hit just .200 against Schmidt, who is 7-1 with a 2.24 ERA in 14 starts at Pacific Bell Park this season. He did not get a decision in his only outing against the Marlins this season, giving up two runs and three hits while striking out eight in six innings of a 4-2 win on May 6. Schmidt appeared in the postseason for the first time last year, going 2-1 with a 4.24 ERA in four starts.
SEASON SERIES: Giants, 5-1.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Florida - 3B Mike Lowell, the team leader with 32 homers and 105 RBIs, will come off the bench in Game 1. He returned to action Sunday after missing four weeks with a broken hand. … The Marlins are 14-34 all-time at San Francisco. … LF Conine has gone 4-for-8 against RHP Schmidt with two homers and two walks. San Francisco - 1B Snow, SS Aurilia and 3B Alfonzo are a combined 2-for-23 (.087) lifetime against RHP Beckett. … CF Grissom ended the season on a 10-game hitting streak, batting .432 (19-for-44) with nine RBIs. … Closer Todd Worrell struggled late in the season, giving up eight runs and 14 hits in his last eight innings.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Florida - 38-43 on the road. San Francisco - 57-24 at home.